Source: El Deber, Resumen Latinoamericano / The Dawn News / February 25, 2018
What is your take on the mobilization of the opposition to Evo Morales’ government on February 21. Do you think it was weak compared with the mobilization by the government’s party Movement Towards Socialism (MAS)?
If we count the number of people that attended, it’s clear that the MAS easily has three or four times the capacity of mobilization that opposition forces have. They said they were going to fight our power on the streets, and it is legitimate for them to try, but we showed them that it is not that easy, and the MAS not only has two thirds of the Assembly but also power of mobilization.
Anything to acknowledge?
Yes, opposition forces managed to radiate at a national scale, it is notable and we have to acknowledge it. They have achieved this after a long time, perhaps since 2008. They showed this grassroots force on a national scale, and this is a democratic achievement.
However, the 21st of February another very important issue was brought to light, which is the classist nature of these mobilizations. The traditional middle class feels that its moral values are being challenged by the government.
On the other hand, there’s a clearly a plebeian quality to the mobilization that supports the MAS, our grassroots. This was not clear a while back. The February 21 mobilization has a middle-class quality to it, reflected in the way in which they blocked the road, they brought seats, they made barbeques while they were at it, they held fitness classes… It was a very fit protest. It’s OK, they have the right to do it.
These urban traditional sectors are very racist, and that is causing something that I hadn’t seen two or three months ago, which is that the poor masses are coming together as a response because they remember how elitist the governments of these middle classes were.
This seemed to have disappeared in the last few years, but now it emerged again very clearly. I saw on TV people walk up to the protesters and ask them “why do you hate us peasants?”.
The opposition had the ability to distribute themselves nationwide, but they did so at the risk of showing too much of their middle-class nature, and becoming too estranged from the lower classes, who were affected by this protest. So this national strike brought back again the tension within Bolivia’s society.
How dangerous can this movement be to the process of change?
The economic elites are divided. One part says that it is preferable to make business before politics with the government, and others chose to confront it. The Confederation of Private Entrepreneurs makes deals and takes distance from political agreements, while the La Paz Chamber of Commerce says there has to be a strike, aligning with the traditional forces. We see indecisiveness.
The poor and working class is getting more cohesive, not only among peasants, workers, and neighborhoods but also in the Bolivian Workers’ Central. This is a very strong sign of reorganization after almost five years of regression of the social power. The struggle is focused on the middle class, that is the object of study and the place where the big political battle is fought.
Because there are two sectors to the middle class: the traditional middle class, which includes many economic activities such as landlords and merchants, prestigious professions and acknowledgment built along one or two generations, and an emerging middle class that was created by our process. According to the United Nations Program for National Development, the middle class grew from one million to nearly three million people, so it tripled.
So, both groups are middle class economically speaking, but one is older, more traditional and conservative, while the other has left the lower class just now and is entering workplaces, universities, and owns a commerce, or rents out two or three buses.
The traditional middle class is politically conservative. They are against the government not only due to different moral values but due to a very practical economic reason.Now they have to share and compete with many more people. This creates an inter-class friction. They reject the newcomers, and they don’t have unions like their fathers and mothers used to have.
Does that mean the middle class does not support the process?
Not necessarily, because that will be the political subject in dispute. The old middle class wants to push out the newcomers but if they’re going to stay, they want to turn them into one of them politically. And the newcomers, to some degree, want to imitate the traditional middle class, but they have different tastes and traditions. They come from the lower class but they want to ascend socially and be different. Whoever manages to conquer ideologically the newcomers, will have the victory in the presidential elections.
Two thirds of this sector or at least the majority.
Is that what the campaign for the 2019 elections will look like?
Yes, and one more thing. Last February 21 showed that this newcomer sector that has no definite political stance feels uneasy due to the influence of the traditional middle class, but they still feel close to their roots, which are lower class. Things will depend on whether we or the opposition appeal to them and get their vote.
How can they be convinced?
These people are not involved in grassroots organizations, they have no union life, they have no group identity. These are subjects without territory. They already have water, power, sewerage, cell phone, an income above 4,000 or 5,000 Bolivian pesos or more in some cases.
What’s new about them is that they have found another way to unionize: social networks, which is a way of virtual unionization.
They don’t attend union meetings nor neighborhood meetings, but they have their WhatsApp group with other parents at their kids’ school, of the animal shelter, of local residents, of music fans, and through them they get informed, they share ideas and they build identity.
At times, this individual force becomes a grassroots force: we’re going to the march against Evo. Then they become a group, they go out on the street and then they return to their virtual community. That’s the political novelty, this didn’t exist five to eight years ago.
The opposition handles social networks very well
Sure, in fact they are ahead of us in that matter, because they were always in the traditional middle class and upper class who never voted for us and never will. By appealing to those 2.2 million people, one can become a political power. But there needs to be a link in order to generate dialogue between parents and children, create bridges between the language, the discourse and the technology used by both, to use this is the key to the political action of the next year and a half. The key for the opposition is to increase those differences and seduce them.
Do you have to fight against fake news?
Not only that, although they have used them, and a lot, but technology is the material support of a class condition, which modifies your way to look at politics. We must redefine the concept of democracy, to make it not only limited to obeying norms (which is the neoliberal definition) but as participation and equality.